October 18, 2007

When Journalists Attack

Quite a lot of people are ripping the behavior of Dallas, TX KDFW-TV reporter Rebecca Aquilar right now and deservedly so. The journalist ambushed 70-year-old Army veteran James Walton as he got into his car, and bullied him into tears. She has since been suspended.


Walton is owner of Able Walton Machine & Welding in West Dallas, a salvage business where he lives in an upstairs apartment, that has been robbed no less than 42 times.

On September 22, at about 2:00 AM, Walton shot a man who was breaking in through a pried-open window. The man later died. Three weeks later on October 14 at 9:00 AM, Walton shot and killed another thief who had broken in.

After each shooting, Dallas police, as a matter of policy, processed each firearm used as evidence for the grand jury, meaning that a victimized Walton had to purchase yet another firearm with which to defend his life and besieged property.

It was as he was leaving the store after purchasing this replacement shotgun (a Remington according to the box markings) that Aquilar staged her ambush:

I'd ask you to note her choice of language, her obvious bias, accusatory tone and abrasiveness, and the careful positioning of her body between the car body and door, an old television reporter's trick that traps the victim as a hostage, so that he could neither exit the vehicle, nor close the door to leave in the vehicle.

Glenn Reynolds notes:

I was struck by reporter Rebecca Aguilar's body-language, literally standing over him in judgment with tailored suit and umbrella. The way she looked down, literally and figuratively, on an old man who had defended his life, entirely legally, and reduced him to tears seems to me to be representative of the worst stereotypes of Old Media.

Stereotypes become stereotypes because of behavior recreated and witnessed enough times that the behavior witnessed is thought to be a group norm.

I've witnessed it firsthand in the aftermath of an armed standoff with hostages. Minutes after the suspect surrendered himself, a television reporter with cameraman in tow came inside the building and started peppering the just-released hostages with questions, jabbing at them and I with a microphone. As news consumers, we've seen other instances of this ambush style of journalism, as other journalists have perfected it in both local and national media.

And there are instances where an ambush style of journalism is indeed warranted, such as confronting con artists or corrupt CEOs. But where journalists have failed the moral test is when they lost basic human empathy, and begin treating citizens as suspects, and victims as criminals, as Aguilar does here, without apparent remorse. This was horrific, but only grossly atypical in that the lopsided assault was broadcast in its entirety, and not edited.

It seems that what has happened to journalism is that far too many journalists have placed the importance of the story they would like to tell as the foremost thought in their minds, and made both facts and people subservient to that agenda. They've traded their empathy for an angle, and honest journalism for advocacy.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at October 18, 2007 10:12 AM

Let me make a wild guess. The two dead perps were Hispanic.

Posted by: 1sttofight at October 18, 2007 10:56 AM

I'd say the producer and other management that gave her this story have a trip to the woodshed comin' to them, too.

A 70 year old is forced to defend his home and his livelihood by killing somebody twice in three weeks. Do we send a reporter to go after a city council who ignores the crime problem? No, of course not, it's gun owner that's to blame here!

I'd like to think this is an infrequent occurrence, but my experience with local news here tells me it's a nationwide problem.

Posted by: ExUrbanKevin at October 18, 2007 10:59 AM
Let me make a wild guess. The two dead perps were Hispanic.

While one of the dead criminals was Hispanic, I think you're jumping the gun stating that this journalistic assualt may be racially motivated.

As for sending a reporter to talk to Mr. Walton, I'd say that is expected, because the circumstances were indeed newsworthy. It is extraordinary that he was targeted for more than 40 break-ins, it is newsworthy that he was forced to shoot criminals twice, and extraordinary that those shooting happened in such a compressed period of time.

My argument is with how the interview was conducted.

Aquilar would have likely gotten a much better interview if she had thought to bring along a human soul (perhaps she could have borrowed one) so that she could have at least faked empathy for what Mr. Walton has gone through. He would likely have been far more receptive to a reporter that was able to display at least a passing concern for what he has gone through.

Instead, Aquilar tries to make Mr. Walton into a thug, but in so doing, reveals that she is the monster. She's getting hte attention--and the kind of attention--she deserves.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at October 18, 2007 11:15 AM

When you read between the lines here, it even becomes worse. He was ambushed at an Academy parking lot. Which means that they had to have been stalking him.

Posted by: Skip at October 18, 2007 12:04 PM

Maybe Aquilar wasn't motivated by the race of the shooting victims. But asking or assuming that as her motivation isn't as Confederate Yankee surmised, "jumping the gun."

I'm willing to bet Ms. Aquilar wouldn't be as in your face with an Hispanic shooter in the same situation. Her sympathies, I'm sure, lie not with the shooter but with the shooting victims[criminals]. Otherwise her abrasive, in your face, passion wouldn't have distorted her judgment, in my opinion.

Didn't she win an award as the Hispanic community's best journalist or something?

Posted by: Andy B at October 18, 2007 12:28 PM

I think one of the problems is that many have learned a technique and apply the technique no matter the circumstances. As you mentioned, the technique you use with a con artist is not the technique you use with a rescued hostage. Or rather, the technique ought to be different.

Ask any good trial lawyer - different witnesses are to be questioned differently.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at October 18, 2007 01:45 PM

What I don't understand is how the reporter knew he would be in the Academy Sporting Goods parking lot in order to confront him? Did they follow him from home? If so, that is harassment -- he's not a government official or well-known CEO, he's a private citizen who the police said was within his rights.

He's also a businessman. Why not ask for an interview at his business/residence? Because he probably would tell them to get lost and they would lose the "ambush" impact. Disgraceful.

Posted by: capitano at October 18, 2007 01:49 PM

I live just north of Dallas. The second perp was white. While Ms aquilar got the axe, someone higher up had to approve of this airing. More than one head should roll here.

Posted by: Mr Kufr at October 18, 2007 03:22 PM

And if Mr. Walton was killed by one of the intruders no one would have ever known. He would have been just another victim in an endless sea of violent crime that I guess we're just supposed to tollerate. Probably wouldn't even be newsworthy enough to get a mention in the Dallas paper. What a backwards world this is.

Posted by: dmartin at October 18, 2007 03:47 PM

I would like to see a poll:
What profession is the most despised in America?
Politician (or is that redundant)
News Reporter
70 Year Old Store Owner

Posted by: Mekan at October 18, 2007 04:11 PM

I live in North Dallas too (Howdy Mr. Kufr), and Aquilar has always been an obnoxious reporter desperate to remind everybody she's hispanic.

She reads her voice overs & conducts interviews in the "whitest" accent you've ever heard...right up until she signs off. She says "Rebecca" in the same accent (like her last name is going to be Johnson or Smith), then emhasizes..AQ-EEE-LARRRR (roll those "R's" baby).
Good grief.
I'm pretty sure she was the inspiration for Family Guy's "Asian reporter, Trisha Takanawa."

Posted by: Lamontyoubigdummy at October 18, 2007 04:11 PM

I can't stand these arrogant, snotty, uppity, liberal woman reporters.

What she said warranted a slap in the mouth and I'm only sorry the man didn't have his woman with him to tell "AQ-EEE-LARRRR" exactly that.

Posted by: Cindi at October 18, 2007 05:03 PM
Ask any good trial lawyer - different witnesses are to be questioned differently.
Posted by: Mikey NTH at October 18, 2007 01:45 PM
I'm not sure there is such a thing. Posted by: Stashiu3 at October 18, 2007 07:09 PM

O/T -- Shattered Glass, the movie about Stephen Glass' serial fabrications in 27 of 41 of his articles published in The New Republic, is playing now on Independent Film Channel and will replay again at 1:15 a.m. Coincidentally, my wife rented it and we watched it last night (no baseball).

It is stunning how TNR has learned nothing. The DVD included commentary by the director and by Chuck Lane, who replaced Michael Kelly as editor. Most of the commentary dealt with how the movie script was pieced together from actual events and transcripts of recorded conversations. Considering how painful it must have been for Lane who confronted and fired Glass, they went to great lengths to detail the sources for everything and to describe amalgams of events and characters.

It doesn't present a very flattering picture of TNR then, and given its history and the lessons that should have been learned, even less flattering today. Interestingly, one of the checks that broke down was that Glass had a romantic relationship with a co-worker who had approval authority over his work and he built similar, non-romantic relationships with other fact checkers.

Remind you of anyone?

Posted by: capitano at October 18, 2007 08:39 PM

Mekan, you wanted a poll, you got a poll. Enjoy.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at October 19, 2007 08:30 AM

The video has been redacted.

Posted by: fretless at October 19, 2007 11:18 AM are her higherups.
WE can voice our opposition to this kind of reporting with them.

(swiped from
FOX4 News director

FOX4 Vice President and General Manager

Main Telephone: 214.720.4444

Main e-Mail:

Dallas Newsroom: 214.720.3154

Dallas Newsroom Fax: 214.720-3263, 214.720.3333

Posted by: mrclark at October 19, 2007 01:01 PM

Maybe she was thinking that that wonderful performance would earn her a job with Univision.

Sorry Rebecca, your award notwithstanding, you're a little too morena to appear on cable.

Posted by: John S. at October 19, 2007 06:09 PM

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is now defending Aquilar's conduct as "professional", which only goes to show you to what depths journalism has sunk.

To take a cue from Instapundit, maybe it's time for bloggers to start conducting ambush interviews of journalists and their bosses.

Posted by: pst314 at October 19, 2007 07:10 PM

Regarding the "professional conduct" of Rebecca Aguilar,who reduced an old man to tears, I am reminded of the question that brought down Joe McCarthy: Have you no decency?

Posted by: DJITMOTRoad-STHH at October 19, 2007 09:55 PM

s time for bloggers to start conducting ambush interviews of journalists and their bosses.

We'll find out pretty quick that the 1st amendment isn't quite what we think it is ;->

Posted by: Purple Avenger at October 21, 2007 01:22 AM